Brief reviews of current shows

 Altar Girls. Two very different exhibits roughly collide into one another in the middle of the Museo de las Américas. One part, put together by Museo curator Kristi Martens, is an extravaganza of santos made mostly in Colorado, Mexico and New Mexico, and primarily culled from a recent gift to the Museo, the Rickenbaugh Santos Collection. On display are renditions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Barbara and Mary Magdalene, among others. The second part of Altar Girls is a selection of contemporary art by women from the Americas, which was curated by Museo director Patti Ortiz. Photography exploring women's roles plays a major part in this half, including pieces by Christina Kahlo, Flavia Da Rin and Estela Izuel. There's also some contemporary realism by Carolina Rodriguez, who works in pencil, and by Grupo Mondongo, a group that "draws" with clay. The only artist who bridges the two halves of Altar Girls is Judy Miranda, from Denver, whose pieces are contemporary santos. Women saints, women artists, Altar Girls — get it? Through July 1 at the Museo de las Américas, 861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401. Reviewed May 3.

Breaking the Mold. In 2003, Connecticut collector Virginia Vogel Mattern donated some 300 pieces of contemporary American Indian art to the Denver Art Museum. For one of the special shows inaugurating the new Frederic C. Hamilton Building, Native Arts curator Nancy Blomberg has selected over a hundred works for the impressive Breaking the Mold: The Virginia Vogel Mattern Collection of Contemporary Native American Art, which is installed in the Martin & McCormick Gallery on level two. Mattern began collecting in 1992, when she purchased a miniature pot by Delores Curran in Santa Fe; though she remained interested in miniatures, she also pursued prize-winning pieces from annual American Indian art shows, focused on multiple generations of the Tafoya and Nampayo families and explored through pottery, textiles and paintings the interrelationships of the Navajo, Zuni and San Ildefonso peoples. But Mattern was also interested in innovation — the "breaking the mold" of the show's title — with such pieces as Hubert Candelario's coiled clay jar with holes cut into the sides so that it's non-functional, but beautiful. Through June 3 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed November 23, 2006.

Colorado & the West. Every summer for many years, David Cook Fine Art has presented a show on the history of regional art, and this year's version, Colorado & the West, rivals a museum exhibit. The show starts off with a rare example of Jan Matulka's oeuvre, an abstracted landscape from 1925. Matulka, a European emigré, is an important artist whose work is rarely exhibited, so it's worth checking out the show just to catch a look at this piece. The influence of cubism was important in Western art, especially in New Mexico and Colorado, and in addition to the Matulka's references to it, there's the spectacular cubo-regionalist black watercolor of a rainstorm by Charles Bunnell and a fully cubist composition of a figural group by Frank Vavra. Expressionism was another dominant force in the art of the West, and there are two wonderful though modest landscapes by Birger Sandzén (whose work is an immediate predecessor to abstract expressionism). In addition to Colorado artists, the show includes pieces by famous New Mexico transcendentalist painters Alfred Morang and Raymond Jonson. Through June 30 at David Cook Fine Art, 1637 Wazee Street, 303-623-8181. Reviewed May 24.

Japanese Art. The spectacular exhibit Japanese Art From the Colorado Collection of Kimiko and John Powers is installed in the Gallagher Family Gallery of the Denver Art Museum's new Hamilton Building. It was put together by Ron Otsuka, the esteemed curator of Asian art who has built an important collection during his thirty-plus years at the institution. Decades ago, Otsuka established a friendship with the Powerses, which is why they put their collection of more than 300 Japanese masterworks on long-term loan with the DAM. It's from this hoard that Otsuka chose the more than 100 objects he included in Japanese Art. As collectors, the Powerses were old-fashioned connoisseurs who chose things based on their innate fineness. "They were certainly very selective," says Otsuka in something of an understatement, considering the high quality of these pieces. The Powerses, who are also known for their stunning modern-art collection, sought out Japanese works of art that anticipate modernism despite that fact that they are hundreds of years old. Through September 9 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 720-865-5000. Reviewed January 25.

Masterpieces of Colorado Landscape. The world-famous scenery of the nearby Colorado Rockies — the gorgeous mountains, not the sorry baseball team — has attracted artists to our state for well over a century. This broad narrative provides a foundation for Masterpieces of Colorado Landscape at Golden's Foothills Art Center. The show includes a large selection of historic landscape paintings and juxtaposes them with an equally large assortment of contemporary landscape paintings. It's a traveling show put together by Rose Glaser Fredrick to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Colorado Council on the Arts. Fredrick chose historic artists who worked in impressionism, expressionism and cubo-regionalism, including Birger Sandzén, Ernest Lawson, Vance Kirkland, Charles Bunnell and Frank Vavra. Sadly, the show falls apart as it moves into contemporary landscape painting because Fredrick tried to cover too much stylistic ground. Still, there are some great things included, such as the pieces by Chuck Forsman, Tracy Felix and Joe Arnold. Through July 8 at Foothills Art Center, 809 Fifteenth Street, Golden, 303-279-9470. Reviewed May 24.

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